Hands-on learning in manufacturing tour

Published 9:00 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

Thirty-three students in welding, advanced welding, machining and manufacturing and youth apprenticeship courses at Albert Lea High School recently visited two businesses in town to learn the different parts of CNC machining. 

The visits took place May 10 and 11. 

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control and uses computer programs to operate machine tools to create parts.

“We had a grant that came through, it was called Future Ready CTE, and we didn’t apply for the grant,” said John Double, who works with the Pathways program. He also serves as principal at the Albert Lea Area Schools Online Academy. “The lead on the grant was Lou-Rich.”

The grant tries to tie secondary schools with industries and post-secondary partners and introduce people to what CNC manufacturing is because “it’s prevalent in our manufacturing space here in town.”

The other partner was JPW (Edwards Manufacturing Inc.).

“It wasn’t your typical tour or walk-around to see what there is to see,” he said. “It was actually describing the process, seeing it up close, how do we incorporate a man on the machine, what is the part that comes out.”

Because they weren’t trained in how to work with the machines, students did not operate any of the equipment, but they got to see machines in different stages of what was happening, everything from setup of the machine to seeing the finished product. 

But students learned about the process just from observing the people operating the equipment.

“The hopes were to get them trained to the point where they could actually be creating things on the machines at some point in time,” he said. “… We have wonderful programs at the high school which really introduce them to the welding and advanced welding and all those types of pieces.

“However, those CNC machines are very pricey and have a lot of maintenance pieces meant to keep them in top working order.”

Being to see them operate in a practical setting was still a good experience, and Double said some students didn’t know what was behind the doors of some machines.

“Basically, it’s using the computer to do some of the manufacturing pieces that are needed,” he said. “For instance, they’re cutting a design out of a piece of metal. They can punch that into the computer, tell it what to do and now it cuts the tiger logo out of the sheet of metal for them.”

According to Double, there are different types of CNC machines out there, including laser cutting tables and machines that can cut 3-D objects out of steel.

“There were a lot of folks that were taking a lot of interest,” he said. “Of the first group, of that group at least four of the students had either mentioned they were going either to Riverland for welding training or already had a position in the community working in welding already, so it was a neat thing to hear that a quarter of the students were already going to go into that field afterwards.”

Because of COVID, nothing like this was offered with this grant last year.